4 Techniques for Purifying Water in the Wilderness

2 Nalgene Bottles

Water is heavy—a gallon weighs 8.35 pounds. It’s also 100% necessary, and when you’re in the wilderness, you need to have more water than you think you need. Not only is it important that you stay hydrated, but you’ll need even extra water to cook with.

Fortunately, you don’t need to carry all your water with you for your entire trip. There are multiple ways to treat water when you’re in the woods.

Getting Water, the Basics

You’ll want two 1-liter Nalgene bottles. Slip one into each of your backpack’s side pockets.

Gather your water from a stream. Water that moves is best, since it tends to have less algae, dirt, and other contaminants. It’s also easier to gather. Just hold your bottle downstream and let it flow right in.

Use your common sense. Water from Manhattan’s East River is going to have a different quality than water from a mountain stream.

  1. Boiling

    You know the drill, put your water in a pot over a heat source. If the water is super cloudy or dirty, you can filter it through a hanky or coffee filter first. When you see big bubbles, it’s boiling. Keep it going for a minute, or three minutes if you’re above 5,000 feet.

  • Pros: Easy! All you need is a pot and a heat source.
  • Cons: Boiling water makes it hot (duh). Usually, not the most refreshing to drink. The process of boiling water is also time-consuming and labor intensive.
  1. Iodine

Drop two iodine tablets into a liter of water. After 30 minutes, your water is safe to drink. At least that’s how ours work, check the package that you get.

  • Pros: Cheap, easy, & the most reliable. We always have a bottle of iodine pills with us when we’re hiking.
  • Cons: They make you water taste a little funky. Excessive exposure to iodine (like if you used it every single day for months on end) can cause nasal issues.
  1. Filter Pump

There are many types of water pumps that allow you to pump water out of a stream.

  • Pros: Very reliable. No extra supplies needed.
  • Cons: Not as easy to use as the other treatment methods. It’s more labor-intensive and takes more time to use. Most of them are heavier than other water treatment supplies.
  1. SteriPEN

This is a special tool that uses blue light to kill bacteria from your water. It’s a handled bulb that comes in a protective sheath. Just uncap, and hold the bulb in your bottle. Hold in there until the automatic timer goes off, which should take 1 minute. That’s enough to purify 1 liter of water.

  • Pros: Easy & quick. Reliable & lightweight. This is my favorite way to treat water!
  • Cons: SteriPENs are more expensive than other methods (currently listed starting at $54). They also use batteries, and it’s hard to know when they’re about to die, so you always want to have extra batteries with you. The batteries are also CR 123, not the most common.

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